Raleigh’s City Manager presented a proposed budget to Raleigh’s City Council on May 19th. Wake County’s Manager also presented a proposed budget recently to the Wake County Commissioners.

If you live in Raleigh, then both the City and County budgets will impact you, your health and well-being, and your finances. Those budgets will also reflect how we feel as a community about our fellow residents, especially those who are struggling to keep from being pulled under by the pandemic’s destruction.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html) reminds us to focus on basic needs like food, shelter, safety and security before we move on to other priorities.

That’s more important than ever now that the COVID-19 pandemic has shredded our community, leaving many struggling to meet those basic needs. And placing additional burdens on our already strapped school system to operate in this new reality.

It’s commendable that neither the City nor the County budget calls for a tax increase, however the City’s budget does include a $2/month increase in recycling fees to cover increased costs. And Raleigh’s mayor has floated the idea of a tax increase (approximately $17 for a median home valued at $255,000) to fund 50 additional police officers and firefighters.

The City also is considering an Affordable Housing bond that might result in a tax increase, although that increase would not go into effect for another year.

There’s no argument that our first responders need more resources. There’s no argument that affordable housing is a high priority for our community, but the affordable housing bond proposal is nothing more than a warmed-over package presented to council years ago that is not responsive to the unprecedented suffering of Raleigh residents today. The process for developing the bond proposal lacked robust public input and the proposal itself lacks any concrete commitment to COVID-19 crisis needs, which will surely be with us for a long time to come.

What we need is a real moonshot budget that prioritizes Raleigh Human Services and an Affordable Housing bond that deals directly and effectively with the horrifying impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which are tearing at the fabric of so many Raleigh lives, particularly the lives of homeless mothers and their children.

So if we want to concentrate on basic needs like affordable housing, education, and safety, what other options do we have for funding beyond tax increases?

The City of Raleigh has long enjoyed very favorable (AAA) bond ratings that allow us to borrow money at the most attractive interest rates. This is largely because of funds we have in reserve – kind of a like a rainy day savings account.   However we have considerably more in our reserves than is necessary to maintain that AAA bond rating. If there ever was a time to spend down some of the money in that rainy day fund to increase our provision of human services, this is it!

The City budget also includes a 2% pay increase for all employees in January. While our City employees work hard and are certainly deserving of annual pay raises, maybe this is the year to skip those raises, as Wake County is doing. Or maybe this is the year to exempt more highly paid staff from receiving raises. The coming recession is predicted to be worse than in 2008-2009, when there were no staff raises. Rather than prioritize raises, shouldn’t we be prioritizing more help for families, children, and others who are in desperate need now?

Let’s focus on satisfying our community’s increased basic needs, without burdening Raleigh residents, by reprioritizing and redeploying some of our resources to that end.

Maybe it’s time for Council to consider more financially sustainable and equitable approaches to waste and recycling services, such as Raleigh’s tier water rates, which are tied to service volumes.

If there ever was a time for Council to be bold and innovative in envisioning a moonshot budget, it is now, at this unprecedented time of crisis and need for so many Raleigh residents.

Take action

You can read up about the City budget at https://raleighnc.gov/news/2019-05-21-city-managers-proposed-budget?emci=aabba807-539c-ea11-86e9-00155d03b5dd&emdi=799e80ef-559c-ea11-86e9-00155d03b5dd&ceid=8684337

You can sign up to speak at the June 2nd public hearing by 5pm Friday, May 29, at https://raleighnc.gov/services/government/public-hearings-city-council-sign-speak

You can submit written comments up to 24 hours after the hearing.

You can learn about the County budget and submit comments here: http://www.wakegov.com/budget/fy21/Pages/default.aspx